Camera Profiles and Color Calibration

Accurate representation of color is important to us all, but especially so in the field of wedding photography (product photography too!!).

It is important to get it right in camera so that less time is spent trying to correct color casts and shifts in Photoshop.

Central to getting color right in camera is to manually set the white balance for the shooting conditions at the time. It only takes about 20 seconds longer, but it saves hours.

I use the X-Rite Color Checker passport to help me with this. It costs around $130 on eBay.

I first set my camera  for white balance. The Color Checker Passport has a white balance card in-built as well. Then I take a shot of the Color Checker target in the light where I will be shooting. And that’s it.

In Lightroom, in the Library module, I highlight the image of the Color Checker Passport. Then I click on the Export button. I give the image of the Color Checker Passport a name and a new profile is created in the Camera Calibration tab in Lightroom.

I move to the Develop module, choose the newly created profile from the drop down Camera Calibration menu, select all the images from the shoot that I want to use the profile with and hit Synchronise. All the images taken in those lighting conditions will now be color corrected to a standard base line from which you can warm or cool images as needed.

This saves me from second guessing what my eyes tell me on the monitor and imagining imperfections in this part of my workflow. It also saves me hours of work guessing at an appropriate color temperature in the RAW processor for each batch of images that I process.

If you ask whether I now take a Color Checker Passport test for different lighting set ups I am in at, say, a wedding, the answer is yes. It takes very little time to do and I am completely over fiddling around in my RAW processor to approximate a decent temperature and colour balance.

So, manual white balance to set overall parameters, and then use of the Color Checker Passport image to get the most accurate color possible for my camera and lens combination.

Of course, if you wanted, you could take a shot of the Color Checker Passport target in settings you typically shoot in (sun, shade and flash). The software that comes with Color Checker Passport allows you to save these targets for the camera you use as a preset in Lightroom (you must use a DNG (Digital Negative) file). Then, all you need to do is open the appropriate preset in the Camera Calibration tab in the RAW processor, click on it and synchronise the images you have taken for the shoot to get accurate color.

Regarding DNG files, I now import all the RAW files from my camera as DNG files in order to allow the Color Checker Passport software to do its thing (Color Checker Passport needs a DNG file to create a camera profile), but also because:

a) it’s a future proofed file format (because Adobe made it open source) and proprietary RAW processors will chop and change and

b) the DNG format takes up a little less space even thought it still contains the xmp. data which is the all important part of a RAW file. In other words, a processed file saved as DNG shows as only a single entity as opposed to a processed RAW file which show the RAW file as well as its attendant sidecar (xmp.) data file.

You may ask whether, if you have a couple of bodies,you would need to make two camera profiles, one for each body. The technical and in-the-field answers are “yes”.

This is because no two sensors respond the same to color wavelengths, and even two identical model camera bodies from the same manufacturer will show a slightly different color response…..

All that remains is to ensure that your monitor and printer are calibrated so that what you see on-screen is what you get when you print out your images.

If you want to read a little more about the Color Checker Passport for your own interest, there are many sites explaining this tool, but you can have a look at a video of it at work here.

If you want to read about it in greater detail take a look at Rob Gailbraith’s page here.

In a future post, I will have a look at simple and easy to use methods for monitor and printer calibration which should keep you very happy with your little studio at home!!

Color Checker Passport with mid grey patch circled

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